I recently asked my book club — they’re not music writers, but some of them substantial Céline fans — to read Let’s Talk About Love; they had wide-ranging responses. What sorts of reactions have you heard from Céline fans through the years?
I think that most of the time the people I’ve gotten to talk to about it one way or another have been people who are in the arts. That’s especially gratifying because as I was writing it, I started more and more to think, “Oh, this is actually a discussion about art in general and about the role of art in the world, not just about how music fandom works.”
When this book initially came out, I tried to reach out to the Céline fan groups online and get them to read it, and that was a really hard sell. People were wary that the book seemed in some way hostile to Céline, less so in the gay Céline fan circles because I think there’s some sort of understanding of camp and irony plays into her appeal. The fans I talked to for the book have, to some degree, tried to share with their friends, but in a lot of ways, the general Céline fan world is one that I haven’t gotten that much direct feedback from. It has been the one thing that I’m sad about with the reception of the book.
No hate mail?
No, no hate mail. But there was some sort of discussion on fan groups online, where you would see people being a little bit hostile to the idea of the book. It’s kind of parallel to the fact that I’ve never been able to get a response from Céline’s own team. They kind of similarly put the walls up if there’s any suggestion of anything other than completely straightforward appreciation.
What do you think Céline would say if you were ever to get a response?
The closest to a response to these questions that she’s ever given was through this Elle Magazine feature that I quote a couple of times in the book, because they really went to her. Coincidentally it was right while I was working on the book, so it was almost like the tension was somehow in the air. They basically asked her, “How do you feel about not being cool?” And her response was more or less, “I don’t care because obviously I’m beloved by all these people and if some critics and some snobs look down on me, I can only say, ‘Look at this audience that comes night after night to my shows in Vegas or all around the world.’” That would be her response.
I’d love to talk to her some about how the more sort of crueler mockery and how it’s affected her emotionally, whether it makes her think about how she does things. In France, particularly, she got that response and she very quickly shifted the people she was using as producers and songwriters on her work in French. I think it was to make a bid for more critical respect in that world. She hasn’t done that in quite the same ways in English, and I’m curious about why in one context that was important to her and in another it wasn’t.